COVID-19: What matters to children and young people?

Since May, RCPCH have been working with children and young people across the UK to find out what matters to them during lockdown, finding out their worries, anxieties and positive experiences from living through a pandemic. We developed a live event for young people and RCPCH members, which took place at the end of July, where young people set the topics for paediatricians to present on. They asked Dr Jas Bansal to share his frontline experience at the event which he has turned into a blog.
Dr Jas Bansal

In the early months of the pandemic, thankfully it became clear that children and young people weren’t being affected in large numbers like in the adult population. However, there have been a handful of children and young people who have become unwell and needing to stay in hospital because of coronavirus. There have been big teams of very dedicated and knowledgeable doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals looking after these children and making them better. Some of these children have been cared for at Great Ormond Street Hospital which is where I have been working for the past few months.  

Doctors, nurses and everyone who works in a hospital is being extra careful about keeping everything clean and reducing the chance of spreading an infection. 

My job however has been working on the Renal Ward called Eagle, which specialises in looking after babies and children who have problems with their kidneys. I work as an ST3 Paediatric Trainee as part of a big team with experienced Consultants, Doctors and Nurses. Some of these children take medicines which need to be adjusted regularly, some need dialysis and some have had a kidney transplant and are taking special medicines called immunosuppressants. As a result, they need to be extra careful about becoming unwell as their body may not be as strong and able to fight off an infection. During the pandemic, that has meant that doctors, nurses and everyone who works in a hospital is being extra careful about keeping everything clean and reducing the chance of spreading an infection. As a result, there have been many changes in the way in which we now work.  

Many of these things you may have seen or heard of before, like wearing a facemask and social distancing. This has meant that our office space has been redesigned to limiting the number of people in the office space at any given time. The hospital has been careful in cohorting patients who have been confirmed to have the virus. It has also meant that we are mindful of how many doctors and nurses are going in and out of each patient’s room during the ward rounds and throughout the day, irrespective of their COVID-19 infection status.  

One of the big changes has been a shift towards telemedicine or virtual consultations. 

One of the big changes has been a shift towards telemedicine or virtual consultations. Rather than inviting the patients into hospital for their appointment, doctors and nurses are instead making phone and video calls. They can decide if the patient would benefit from coming into hospital to be seen. Furthermore, patients are asked a series of screening questions to further reduce the possibility of an infected individual attending hospital.  

Over ten years ago, when I first started my training to become a doctor this technology was a relatively new thing and not used very often but this is likely to become a new normal. This technology is great but one of the most enjoyable parts of my job is meeting children and young people in person and getting to know them and what their condition or illness means to them. I suppose you could think of it as speaking to your friends on the phone or on FaceTime isn’t quite the same as seeing them face to face.  

In days gone by, teaching would be face to face but now technology platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are used instead. 

Great Ormond Street Hospital has been fantastic in making alternative provisions for delivering teaching and education to trainees like myself. In days gone by, teaching would be face to face but now technology platforms like Zoom and Microsoft Teams are used instead. The same goes for multi-disciplinary team meetings; these have also shifted to online platforms and much of the communication between teams is now over the phone or via email. I’m sure that clinical teaching (where we examine patient’s with clinical signs) will in time be adapted to be compliant with policies to limit the spread of infection.  

Much of the conversation in the mainstream media has focused on the impact of coronavirus on adults, in particular on their health needs and changes to their working practices. It’s a shame that the voice of children and young people hasn’t been heard. For that reason, I’m all the more thankful that webinars such as this one the ‘Covid-19; what matters to children and young people’ gives an opportunity to children and young people to share your concerns so that we can involve you in the conversation and champion your cause.  

I wanted to emphasise that there is always someone that you can talk to if you are worried. 

Speaking to children and young people at work has been insightful. Some children are concerned about potentially becoming unwell from coronavirus, particularly those who are taking immunosuppressant medications. I wanted to reassure you that becoming seriously unwell from coronavirus is thankfully a rare occurrence. That is not to detract from the large numbers of adults who have become unwell or passed away as a result of this terrible disease. Some of you may have friends or family who have become unwell and I wanted to emphasise that there is always someone that you can talk to if you are worried.  

Children and young people do more than ‘just go to school’. I know that going to school is an opportunity to learn, play and socialise with your peers. Being at home for many months will not have been easy. Some children and young people that I have spoken to have explained that they have felt bored. They’ve described that it has been difficult to do classwork without the help of teachers. Some have said that they are anxious as they will no longer be sitting exams which they have studied many months for.  

On a personal level, I moved away from home for the past four months. 

On a personal level, I was concerned about working in a hospital and potentially spreading an infection to my family. In that context I moved away from home for the past four months. I’ve also become healthier by commuting to work by bicycle rather than taking public transport.   

The coronavirus pandemic has forced the government to prioritise healthcare. We hope to see funding for infrastructure and human resources. We have been forced to change our practices as doctors and adopt new technology in order to communicate with our patients. Coronavirus has been a catalyst for change and will force improvements.   

The past four few months has been an extremely difficult time for everyone and it has been a rollercoaster of emotions especially a worry of how things will be in the future. Hearing the public ‘clapping for carers’ reminded me how thankful everyone was to the NHS and how proud I was to work for such a fantastic organisation. It has been comforting knowing that the NHS and the wider medical community is united in studying the virus and how it can be treated and defeated.  

Watch the RCPCH &Us Q&A event

Keeping you safe

We understand that you might have worries or concerns, or watch or read new things in the above that you want to talk about.

As well as local support, you can use these national services:
The Mix, a charity supporting young people/young adults online or by phoning 0808 808 4994

Childline for support for children and young people online or by phoning 0800 1111

Kooth - an app for young people with an online mental health community

NHS Every Mind Matters - lots of different resources for all ages 

Wellbeing for RCPCH members as health professionals - resources and articles curated by other members